Bliks knew the space was too small for her to use her hardest hitting spells, but instead reached out to end the conflict quickly. Greater Possession pressed her mind against Areelu’s and for a moment time seemed to freeze, their wills striving for dominance. She felt the mental walls crumble only to find herself slipping past her target and snapping back to her own vision, her spell resisted.
Then the air seemed to be squeezed out of her chest. Her ribs cried out and she saw her companions similarly convulsing in pain. Radiance dimmed as it tumbled out of Irabeth’s hands, clattering to the stone followed shortly by the sharp crack of the paladin’s armour clad knees as she clutched at her throat.
The retort of Hex’s revolvers ended the pain as they tore through Areelu’s wings, bringing her down on the dais just in front of the cage. Irabeth remained curled on the ground. With a snap of finely manicured fingers the air before the demon rippled and screeched open. From this maw stepped a great pig faced giant, ridiculously small wings sprouting from its back countered by a roar and heavily muscled limbs ending in stubby fingers and toes. A Nalfeshnee, one of the guardians of the Abyss itself.
With a cry, Eryno dashed forward, cutting into the great monster’s flank, ichor staining the floor. A sickly glow spread across the creature’s body as it clumsily swung at the warrior it dwarfed.
Again Bliks felt the air around her change, but this time instead of crushing her lungs, it felt like great webs were trying to hold her limbs in place. She knew this to be a deception, that Hold spells played with the mind, and she threw off its influence much to the screams of frustration from Areelu.
The Nalfeshnee snorted as its eyes flashed for a moment and Bliks could see Eryno clearly fighting against some new force in the air. Still with a sharp stroke he brought his blade up and caught the giant’s wrist, its hand landing beside Irabeth’s inert form.
A ray arced between Areelu and Hex and he began firing wild, sending ‘Blinded’ Seeing the battle beginning to turn, Bliks brought her wrists together, her cupped fingers firing sphere after sphere of fire that engulfed both demons. Then the glow on the Nalfeshnee’s skin bloomed across the room, almost blinding her as well but leaving her stomach churning as her vision distorted.
Shaking her head clear, Bliks saw Areelu and the Nalfeshnee barely singed by her Meteor Swarm. Grinding her teeth she drew a deep breath, letting it out in a blast of sound, sending the Nalfeshnee reeling while Areelu covered her ears, her own scream lost in Bliks’ thundering Greater Shout. Over the link she heard ‘Up up. Stop. Right. Stop,’ as Eryno sent the blinded Hex directions on where to continue his fusillade.
Those bullets impacted the Nalfeshnee as it steadied itself, throwing its focus off as it tried to bring another of its spells to bear on Bliks. “You have earned my wrath, mortals!” Areelu screamed, brandishing a fist sized gem at Eryno.
In a eyeblink Eryno was gone. His equipment collapsed in on themselves.
Her eyes widening, Bliks stepped back, leaving Hex in the fore as he continued to fire blindly into the bulk of the giant demon. She stammered, fumbling with her components, and then felt the wall behind her stop her unconscious retreat. Then she saw Areelu bringing together a powerful spell and tried to throw up a shield to protect herself and Hex.
But he was in front of the Wall of Suppression. His skin sucked around his bones as his muscles lost mass. Parched lips tried to speak, but with a tongue a solid mass, nothing but a wheeze came out. Jerkily he continued to reflexively pull the trigger on his revolver, empty clicking replacing its usual roar, the reloads in the other hand scattering at his feet. Then the Nalfeshnee reached out a meaty paw of a hand and lightning arced from the ceiling through Hex’s body.
The corpse of the Black Sovereign crumpled in a smoking pile of scorched, dehydrated flesh and bones.
Crisscrossing her legs as she walked, Areelu sashayed through the intangible wall Bliks had thrown up. With a seductive smile, she reached out and held a hand over the wizard’s mouth. Regaining her senses, Bliks pawed at the muzzling hand but floundered against the succubus’ grip.
“Don’t worry, I’ve done this dozens of times before,” Areelu soothed before she snapped Bliks’ neck.
The struggling hands lost their life and fell to numb sides. Areelu leaned in, kissing the tears rolling down Bliks’ cheeks.
“Your friends, they were the true threat. You? Too full of doubt. Too distracted by the future. You could have prepared for this fight properly, but you didn’t. Deep down, you really didn’t want to. Don’t worry love, once I learn your secrets, you’ll come to my embrace on your own.”
Effortlessly Areelu carried Bliks by the neck to where Eryno’s gear was piled. Her tail snaked through the jumble, pulling out the Rod of Cancellation, its green gem still glinting atop its silver length. “You were going to destroy the wardstone? Clever wizard! I knew you’d at least try to steal it back, but destroy it? How positively refreshing to see someone embrace the path of the Abyss.”
“And what a waste it would have been. I have spent years searching for just the right Nahyndrian crystal. That brute Khorramzadeh thought the sliver I gave him could destroy it. So many forget the Abyss isn’t about simple annihilation, that’s the point of the Void. Oh no, it is about all kinds of destruction, including the destruction of rebirth. All those arrogant Crusaders? They’re about to start a new campaign, this time in Deskari’s service.”
“This is why I spared you … who else could appreciate my work?”
‘Technician Volegling, this is-‘
‘Broken Arrow, immediate suppression, danger close, authorization Salometa, out.’
The twin engines of the Myrmidons blazed as they shot ahead of the lumbering Annihilator as it too lifted into the sky on a plume of white fire. Rockets breached the air, detonating on the stone tower.
Dropping Bliks’ limp body, Areelu spat as the room shook around her. Broken masonry showered down on them. “Damned Ulkreth, there is little left in this city to smash, this is my hour!”
A Vrock Teleported beside one of the robots, a screeching vulture with human arms, only to be deftly sidestepped. Another volley of rockets again smashed the tower.
The Nalfeshnee shouted something, throwing itself over the succubus as a massive chunk of ceiling crashed on its back.
The other robot fell, caught in the grip of a four armed Vrolikai, frantic demonic stabs met with quantum lashes. Behind them, the ponderous Annihilator cleared its path with the relentless growl of its chain guns. The demonic screams were joined by an ever increasing hum.
For a moment the Annihilator and the Grey Garrison’s tower were linked by an iridescent light.
Then the weakened roof and the walls of the tower crumbled and blew away like ash.
From where Bliks’s head lolled she could see the hulking body of the Nalfeshnee still shielding Areelu. Under that tangle a silver rod topped with a green gem rolled free, coming to rest between the wizard and the wardstone’s cage.
A gentle breeze stirred the debris in the room. At its centre lay the immobile body of Bliksemani Volgeling, her eyes focused intensely on the Rod of Cancellation. The breeze stiffened, howling into a gale, into the indescribable roar of a tornado. Shards of rock tore at the flesh of the demons and lightning crackled between the blinding winds and the remains of the tower.
The rod rattled under this force, then lifted like a spear being hefted by unseen hands. With wild eyes, Areelu reached past her summoned demon, cloth and skin ripping as she strained forward, her screams lost to the storm.
Then in a sudden rush the winds threw the rod forward into Kenabres’ wardstone.
Brilliant and soothing.
A voice, then a duet, then a choir, singing a timeless hymn.
The air filled with golden razors, billowing out against the storm, each seemingly moving slowly until Bliks saw pebbles lazily falling all about her, barely touched by gravity’s pull. She felt energy piercing through her face in a glorious rush, saw it slashing through her clothes, riddling her body with glowing scars. Then the wounds sowed themselves shut, leaving behind no trace of their passage, and she could feel her legs again.
She stood, seeing the remains of the wardstone continue their outwards path. Each was a tiny comet of holy light, streaking out from the now ruined cage. Areelu was pinned by the Nalfeshnee, their bodies now tied together by long, brilliant nails. As Bliks watched the two seemed less and less separate, until there was a seamless whole. The body was then limbed in an arcing black and red fire, and was gone.
“My most humble apology that that hadst to befall thee. Thither wast nay other way.” The voice was powerful. Booming. Everywhere. The dialect was an ancient form of Taldane.
“Our interference hath dire consequences. But knoweth yond thee doth not travel high-lone, for we art with thee.”
Within the blaze of light that had been the wardstone, Bliks could see figures coming into focus. Most prominent was a scarred woman clad in polished plate. To her left was a powerfully built dwarf leaning on a massive warhammer. To her right was a bronze angel, her hair a flowing flame. Others crowded in until all she saw was a great host, stretching back into infinity.
“Thy companions wilt not share thy burden, they shall see only light and life.”
The voice was coming from the scarred woman, Bliks was sure of that now. Iomedae, Aroden’s herald, The Inheritor. Goddess of righteous valour.
“But if it be true that thou can carryeth it, the reward shall beest most wondrous.”
Rays of light splayed across the room, first focusing on Irabeth’s suffocated form, then on Hex’s desicated body, and finally on the gem that trapped Eryno’s soul. Each began to glow and heal and finally stand as if untouched by the combat that had just finished. Their chests puffed, their backs straight, Bliks saw in them a new resolve, their eyes filled with understanding. Yet they stood as still and solid as statues.
“Knoweth yond thee hast did save many from a horrible fate. And while thy descent into darkness shall beest long, thither shall beest redemption.”
“Finally doth not taketh the paths hath given, but findeth thy own. While your enemies are many, your allies are greater. Farewell!”
Only then did the broken stones and dust of the tower fall, the world no longer paused.
“Are you guys alright?” she said tentatively testing the silence.
Hex quickly inspected his body, shrugged and nodded. “What a rush!” Eryno exclaimed, drawing their attention. “Where’d those demons go? Did we win?”
“I’m not sure and yes, we won. The wardstone has been destroyed.”
“Attend friends,” Irabeth interrupted, “to the north.”
On the horizon a memory seemed to replay. For a moment Bliks was back there, standing on the highest peak of Silvermount, somewhere above the Divinity’s Primary Engineering deck. Again she saw a golden spike drive down from the heavens, but then she saw another, and yet another. She swung around and saw the same to the south. All along the border holy light was breaking through the darkness and corruption.
“By the Whisperer …” Bliks gasped.
“What’s going on?” Eryno asked.
“The wardstones.” Hex said. “All of them.”
This time when the darkness recoiled, it did not return. A wave of blistering gold rolled towards Kenabres from north and south, and where they could spot the silhouettes of demons, the fiends were caught up in it and torn asunder. Bliks features twitched and her hung mouth agape, while the wave stormed up the terraces of the city, converging on the Gray Garrison.
Its power was grand and terrible, molten silver and gold reaching out. Bliks looked to where the wardstone had exploded expecting the streams to meet there, wishing to see this grand act of pure creation.
Then she looked down and found herself skewered by them.
Every muscle clenched, her fingers splaying open, her artificial hair stretching in all directions, as she lifted off the ground. Painlessly it burnt through her. Silently she cried out. Looking down, her skin was not her own, as her tattoo like markings darkened into sharp contrast against her blinding flesh. And all around her, her breeze was a river of stars.
Then her mind was elsewhere. Mists and clouds of the purest pearl. The air was clean and clear, and she took it in deeply, and even though she knew her body was still floating above the ruined tower of the Gray Garrison, it was a refreshing breath. The beat of wings made her turn.
Beside her stood a figure that was hauntingly familiar but unlike any she had ever met. The woman had great multicoloured wings like those of a tropical bird sprouting from her back, but skin like molten rock. A crown of flowing black hair trailed down her back over finely woven silver armour festooned with blue butterflies. Even from behind, Bliks could see that her physique was finely toned with powerful muscles alongside alluring curves. The figure started, turning. Impossibly Bliks felt her throat constrict.
Two kind brown eyes glittered under long black bangs. Her cheeks each sported the glittering outline of a blue butterfly wing.
“Dreams in the Dark?”
The beauty smiled, “Yes, my Little Breeze.”
“I’m not really here, am I?”
“No. Nor am I. This,” Dreams gestured to herself with a curtsey, “is not my body as it is, but as I wish it could be. Desna has blessed me, letting me see again and again the possibility of redemption. But you. You’ve grown.” She shook her head, smiling, “not this dream self, I know you as you are. Your body is a wonder, you dance so well. Until now, I wasn’t sure it was truly you.”
“That … was you? Last night? You wrote that note?”
“Your note implied you were trapped in the Worldwound … it’s been years, Dreams, why …”
“… can’t I leave? This is the body I wish I had, but not the body I have. My soul …” she began to weep, “… my body reflects my soul, and my soul is not pure enough.” As the tears slid down her face a pair of horns grew from her forehead. The lava that was her skin hardened into alabaster as the feathers fell from her wings, revealing the crimson leather of bat wings. Her hair fell out in clumps until it was the short almost military cut that Bliks remembered from years ago. And what started as bloodshot eyes from tears spread until the orbs became a solid red.
Bliks paused for a moment to take in Dreams’ new form, then took the weeping succubus into her arms. When their foreheads touched, she could feel the horns press into her skin. A strength rose in Bliks. A clear sense of purpose. Of direction. It flowed between the women, and Bliks could feel the horns melt as Dreams’ skin became molten once again.
“Yes,” Dreams breathed, “of course. Hope. Hope freed me from Vhane’s prison. As I am in you, you are in me. Thank you. Thank you for everything.”
In a blink the mist was gone, replaced by the cool open air of Kenabres. There she floated, her skin still glowing like a torch, when the cheers from the city rose. The demons were gone. Blasted in a moment of holy energy.
But one demon could not leave Bliks. To the north. There. There was a demon that wished to be an angel.